The Danforth Music Hall is a great venue, no denying that. They have impeccable taste in booking medium-to-large sized acts and with its size it plays like an intimate venue even if it holds 1,500 people. Based on my musical tastes it seems to be the venue I frequent the most and the staff is always accommodating. It was a bit odd to see Jamie xx, DJ extraordinaire play in a hall that is usually reserved for rock and hip-hop acts. Odd because there is a balcony that is filled with seats and with its sharply raised stadium floor it makes it a bit difficult to dance around with abandon.
Entering the sold out show just after the opening act Mike Simonetti had started, I was surprised to see how empty the venue was. To borrow a line from my girlfriend the style he was playing was the type of music you would hear at an art gallery party in the movies. Slightly esoteric, mixing pop and old soul to deep house beats. The music was quite interesting but with the volume turned down quite low and the small crowd not dancing in the slightest you had to wonder if this was the best type of music to hype up a crowd. Towards the end of his set the volume was raised and with more people in attendance the crowd was feeling it more.
And just like that, a skinny short young man emerged from the darkened wings and traded off behind the decks. The few people at the front who could see what occurred cheered the transition, one done as seamless as a DJ does between songs, as Jamie xx gave a small wave to the crowd and Simonetti slinked into the dark wings. The stage set up remained the same, a large table with two turntables and a few synth/drum machines. Off to the side of the table was a smaller one, one that had several large milk crates filled with records, something that made the record collector in me giddy with excitement and jealous that I was unable to pour through the collect that I’m sure was quite impressive. It is still quite an unusual sight these days having DJ’s that still use vinyl. The only ones who do still properly “spin” are usually advertised as such, making it a slight novelty. Jamie, only 27, is not an ordinary DJ and producer, but one in the vein of J Dilla, a music enthusiast who knows that music is an addiction that can not be quenched and the more time, energy and money you put into it, the more you realize there is never a moment of “enough”.
The spacious Danforth Music Hall instantly was transported both in time and place to become an early 90’s London warehouse rave, where DJ’s were king and sweaty people congregated to revel in the latest underground hit. The sound was grimy and full of deep bass. Jamie a master of music effortlessly switched between styles so subtly it was hard to tell when one genre began and the previous one ended. He played quite a few of his own songs but in his two hour set there were large chucks of just pure unadulterated dance beats blasting through the speakers. From jungle to drum and bass to dub all filtered through a haze of trance music. Even if you didn’t want to join the masses in dancing you couldn’t help aggressively bobbing your head to the thumping of the bass.
Sometimes it was hard to recognize the song, sometimes it was unmistakable. Jamie took the spoken word records of the (late) great Gil Scott-Heron and added his own beats to the poet’s works. Scott-Heron is an obvious influence for the entire hip-hop community (look no further than Kayne sampling Who Will Survive in America on MBDTF and even naming the track after the original), and since Jamie borrows heavily from every genre it was a match made in heaven pairing his deep beats with the streets poet laureate. Jamie played his version of the haunting I’ll Take Care of You, a song he later repurposed for Drake and Rhianna entitled Take Care.
Another noticeable remix he played was from his band The xx, where Jamie serves as the musical architect for his two singers low key yet very emotive singers. Playing a remix of Sunset from the bands second album Coexist was a great touch and makes you wonder how amazing a full on dance record by the band would be and that the quiet lyrics can be easily transformed into something far more powerful just by cracking up the BPM.
By the time Jamie started noticeably playing songs from his sure to be contender for album of the year, In Colour, the crowd was a sweatbox. From an outsider everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, people jumping in the air, couples dancing against each other and the giant disco ball behind Jamie reflecting pink lights across the room. He dropped Loud Places, a song that features the vocals of his The xx band mate Romy that has her trademark effortlessly breathless vocals. The song already has a solid dance beat but Jamie turned it up a notch by including some Madonna club land flairs to the track. It was a common theme of the night, where the set could have been played in the late 80s or early 90s with the amount of pop nostalgia samples used (even if they were next to impossible to distinguish).
Those that left the main floor to go to the bathroom or get a drink quite literally ran back in when the stuttering hi-hat beat of the first track of In Colour, Gosh, started. The lights changed from their alternating red and blue to create a rainbow, one that matches the spectral pinwheel of his album artwork. All the while the lights stayed behind Jamie, with an intention of the music being the star, unfortunately when you try to make yourself invisible, it only makes people pay attention closer. Every little head bob, record flip and beat matching was all noticed as the mysterious man in silhouette was illuminated from behind.
Jamie isn’t just content using his vast knowledge of music to create his work, but in showing the audience where his influences come from. His song I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), has a killer soul and funk sample and Jamie educated us by playing the full version of Good Times by The Persuasions before the familiar dancehall dinging dropped and Popcaan’s Jamaican accent boomed over the speakers. Right as the second verse started the song was flipped and a remix featuring other rappers began playing, which was Jamie’s way of keeping the crowd on its toes all while the speed of the music was raised.
It really was a good time and Jamie finished the show by repeating Loud Places. The lights were bright white, and on high enough that you could see most of the man in the booth’s face. He waved at the crowd as everyone madly cheered. Two straight hours of an underground rave on a weeknight was a treat, one that the people in attendance knew was a special occasion and treated it thusly. Now can The xx hurry up and release some new music as well? The world need’s more Jamie xx, no matter where it comes from.
Thanks to Embrace Presents for media access.